Make some noise for silent film stars

17th August 2012 at 01:00
Five movies devised and performed by children have made it on to a big screen in Aberdeen. Jean McLeish takes a front row seat

A morning off school to go to the movies is always a winning formula for pupils, but what a bonus when you're also starring in the film.

There is a mood of feverish excitement in the cinema when nearly 200 pupils from Ferryhill Primary pack into the front stalls at Cineworld in Aberdeen's Union Square. The cast are in their costumes and others have taken the opportunity to dress up, too, creating a suitably glamorous atmosphere.

They have come to see five silent films devised and performed by a class of 24 pupils - The Robbery, The History Lesson, Lucky Dog, Handbag Thief and The Circus. From the moment Justin Boyle, 9, walks across the screen with that characteristic Charlie Chaplin walk in The Robbery - it's clear the P4s have nailed it.

Considering the age of these children, the films are astonishingly good. Older pupils think so, too. "I was shocked at how good they were," says Ciara Main from P7.

The production is the result of a collaboration with the school's business link partner, Talisman Energy, which pulled out all the stops to support the children.

Starstruck Movie Productions, otherwise known as P4, came up with their own scenarios for their film project "Lights, Camera, Comedy". And the P67s like Ciara and Mehdi were involved when their enterprise group organised today's screening and a private premiere with an Oscars ceremony for parents and local senior citizens.

One of the stars is eight-year-old Kirsten Forbes, who plays the title role in The History Lesson. This morning she's wearing lipstick and pale blue eye shadow and clutching an Oscar statuette. "I got this at the Ferryhill Oscars for outstanding effort," she smiles.

Her co-star Oliver Glen, 8, plays a cheeky boy who disrupts her class. "We were watching Charlie Chaplin films to see what they were like, so we could film them. They don't have colour, they don't have sound, they have piano music," says Oliver.

P4 teacher Jeanette Macpherson acted as an on-set adviser during filming, which was professionally directed and edited by Prem Reynolds and the team at "the art department", using the children's stories.

"I think they are incredibly gelled as a class; because it was such a joint venture their group work is now superb," says Mrs Macpherson. "It has given them confidence and because it was mime and they didn't need to speak, the quiet ones were all involved as well, because quite often it's actually delivering the lines that is the obstacle to drama. So the mime approach was an all-inclusive approach for them."

"It was fabulous - it was real inter-disciplinary learning and it covered all areas of the curriculum," says P67 teacher Laura Taylor, whose pupils ran the enterprise project. "They loved having the responsibility. Some of them didn't know how to write an envelope - so there were some real life skills they got and they thoroughly enjoyed it."

The school's acting headteacher, David Wallis, is thrilled by the pupils' achievement. "People come up to me and ask me what Curriculum for Excellence is all about and it can be hard to explain. But this is CfE in a nutshell. The children's own work - an enterprise project, a business link project and children taking part in an arts project - all rolled in together. If you want to explain what CfE is about - this is it."

Look and learn: how children are benefiting from local adults' expertise

It's an advantage when schools can benefit from parents' professional expertise.

Mum of two Debbie Yhip is an experienced theatre director with two children at Ferryhill Primary and helps with school projects.

When the P4 children were working on the Victorians, Ms Yhip suggested they focus on the early years of cinema. She's currently a full-time mum and was able to support the production with advice on story lines, scripting, costumes and background research.

"What amazed me was that they have no knowledge of any of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but they sat down and they were laughing as if it was fresh and these films are nearly 100 years old," says Ms Yhip.

P7 pupils are now selling DVDs of the films in aid of school funds and a local charity Befriend A Child.

"Some children have parents with drug and alcohol problems, some are socially isolated and some are maybe living with an elderly relative who's not able to take them out as much as they would like," says Andrew Reid, a community and trust fundraiser from the charity.

"We match them up with one of our volunteer adults who is the befriender and who commits to taking the child out once a fortnight for three hours at a time," he explains. "It might be going to the football or going to the cinema or a walk in the park - all kinds of things that kids should be doing, but their home circumstances mean they don't give them the opportunity to do."

The charity's oldest volunteer is a 79-year-old woman who takes a teenage girl on outings every fortnight.

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